What’s in a name, dear reader? The Ancient Greeks would discuss topics like this, trying to discover the identity of things. A thing can only really be itself, but how it is described may serve to inform more about the describer than what is being described. For instance, if you were discussing the Falkland Islands with a person born and brought up in this country with no Latin American lineage who insisted on calling the islands the ‘Malvinas’, then you could be almost certain that you were talking to a left-winger who was and also needed to be committed, or perhaps Jeremy Corbyn.
The word ‘ethnic’ may evoke the exotic foods and clothing you may see when visiting the stalls of Camden Market. ‘Cleansing’ could refer to detoxification of the body, perhaps in the manner that the late Auberon Waugh would do every year for a fortnight, when he would repair to some health-based establishment and abstain from cigars and fine wines for a fortnight. Put the two words together and you get a whole new term for genocide that could have been devised on Madison Avenue.
If you are the recipient of housing benefit and your children leave home, freeing up one or more bedrooms, it would seem fair to leave the dwelling for another family with more need to use while you move to smaller accommodation more suited to your requirements. If you don’t, it would seem reasonable that your benefit is reduced to reflect the reduction of your housing needs. After all, someone else is paying for your housing. This is what happens if you rent privately.
Until recently this was not the case if you were in state-provided housing. When the government changed the housing benefit rules, they were accused of imposing a ‘bedroom tax’, a term that was taken up by the BBC. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. But taxes are more unpopular than benefit cuts, as Harriet Harman now realises, even if her party she temporarily leads does not. The name ‘bedroom tax’ stuck, again telling us more about its user than the concept itself. Part of the reason may be that the Conservative government could not come up with a title snappier than ‘under-occupancy penalty’.
In the 1980s, it seemed reasonable to impose a levy on all adult residents of a local authority’s area to reflect the cost of services provided. Certainly it was fairer than obliging only owner-occupiers to stump up the difference between the government’s local authority grant and the actual expenditure. This is how the Community Charge was created, to force all adults living in ‘Loony Left’ boroughs with profligate, politically-motivated spending and the inevitable ‘nuclear-free zones’ to have a direct financial relationship with the ideology of the council they elected, instead of leaving this to those who owned a house.
Calling the Community Charge a ‘Poll Tax’ reduced this measure to a regressive indiscriminate imposition that makes no allowance for ability to pay. The levels of Community Charge levied by local councillors were perversely blamed on central government instead of the free-spending ‘right-on’ councils. Thus an initiative designed to increase the accountability of local authorities resulted the downfall of a great leader and the virtual obliteration of her party’s presence in Scotland.
The naming of things is therefore quite important in human affairs. The word ‘National’ on its own can be seen as a descriptive word. ‘Socialist’ refers to that misguided economic and political philosophy that persists in deluding impressionable people even after the Berlin Wall was erected and also after it fell. Put the words together and there is a rather unsavoury politics. ‘Assisted Living’ refers to the care provided in sheltered accommodation for the infirm. ‘Assisted Dying’ is another Madison Avenue term, this time for homicide.
Which brings me to ‘Islamic State’. David Cameron suggested that the BBC should refrain from using that term when describing the paramilitary force that is ravaging areas of the Middle East and North Africa. 120 MPs signed a letter to that effect. The reason for this is simple. It is not a state, and its use of atrocity to advance its cause should not be associated with Islam. Lord Hall hid behind the fence he had been sitting on instead of taking a stand. The Director-General of the BBC, according to Private Eye, reacted by issuing a directive, which permitted the use of ‘Islamic State Fighters’, ‘Islamic State Group’ and ‘the so-called Islamic State’, but banned ‘ISIS’, ‘Daesh’ and ‘Islamic State’ on its own. The fact that the latter term is used by other news organisations does seem to mean that a renaming by British news media appears unlikely. The Guardian, in common with several other media groups, uses ‘Islamic State’ at first mention, thereafter ‘ISIS’. David Cameron has also been ridiculed as it has been pointed out that ‘ISIS’ and ‘ISIL’ are just contractions of ‘Islamic State’.
To take the last point first, calling this ruthless organisation ‘ISIS’ or ‘ISIL’ is as valid a contraction as using ‘Nazi’. Yes, the contraction ‘Nazi’ is of the word ‘national’ as the first two syllables are pronounced in German, but that does not discredit the word ‘national’. I’ve seen it on the side of passenger vehicles coming out of Victoria Coach Station. Using ‘ISIS’ similarly removes the word ‘Islamic’ from direct view.
I have to say that I have used the phrase ‘Islamic State’ in at least one article. No more.
Using ‘Islamic State’ simply adds to the negativity that the British media have for years attached to the word ‘Islamic’. This has been going on since the Iranian Revolution caused the rise of a theocratic state following the fall of the Shah nearly four decades ago. On the Six O’clock News on Radio 4 earlier this year the female newsreader referred to the ‘Islamic threat’, when she clearly meant the ‘Islamist threat’. Whether this was in her script or was a slip of the tongue was not clear. The mistake was not mentioned or apologised for, and more worrying, was not picked up by any of the media. It was seen as normal.
It is worrying because the decades-long drip-feed of negativity about the religion of Islam in the news media could lead to acceptance of initiatives by the State and others at a visceral level by a large section of the populace who will regard them as necessary without additional examination.
The vast majority of the peoples of the world who celebrated Eid last Friday carry on with their lives in peace with friends, neighbours and strangers. This is also true in this country. They should not be associated with an organisation that hijacks the word ‘Islamic’, misuses the word ‘State’ and associates it with well-crafted atrocity porn disseminated over the internet and seriously over-publicised by the news media.
What the news media seem to forget is that ISIS are killing large numbers of peaceful followers of the Islamic faith for the simple crime of disagreeing with how that faith is followed, having the wrong ethnicity or for just being the wrong person in the wrong place and the wrong time. They also practise mass rape. Using the word ‘Islamic’ is plain misinformation by media organisations that should really know better.
What’s in a name, dear reader? Clearly attaching ‘Broadcasting Corporation’ to the word ‘British’ is no longer an enhancement, implying a compromising of established values to achieve a balance, all in the name of progressiveness, even if one side of the scale is blatantly morally questionable. The BBC always says that it cannot be seen to give in to government pressure. That’s why we had to endure the Hutton Inquiry. But in this case it should have a degree of humanity and common sense and not be an impartial news-provider. It should pick a side. And make sure it is the right one this time.